Welcome to Renate's Baton. This blog is mostly for and about my choir, The York Region Community Choir.

But, While I'm holding the baton, I'm in charge. So, if I want to talk about other parts of my life, I will. :)

The choir itself is a community and I'm discovering that we have a lot in common with one another besides our love of music and singing.

When I go off on a tangent, there is always a crowd coming along. Join us!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What we're singing

Hello Everybody,

We're starting to get excited, and a bit stressed too, as our concerts dates creep closer.

Here's what we have to focus on first: The music we are singing for the November 12th concert is mostly ready. We have 2 more rehearsals to get completely ready. Remember that we will be supported by a mass of strong singers.

We got the good news yesterday that we can all sing melody for O Canada. That's a relief. If you've been working with the CD and learning your part, sing it. It would be great if some of us could sing along with the YRPMC, but the audience and the children will all be singing along with the melody and we can do that too. We are unable to get the music that they are using.

Go Now In Peace is ready. One Small Step is ready. Who Are The Brave requires courage, and some help from our neighbours. We're going to rehearse with them after break for the next two Mondays. YAY! We are the brave.

Our own pieces for that evening are: Wonderful World, Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, Monday Monday,  Hello Goodbye, and Hallelujah. They're all in very good shape.

The rest of our music is for December 4th and the seniors' visits. We're well on our way with those pieces as well. I was really pleased with how fast we're learning the new holiday music and we'll soon have CD's to help us with those too.

Thank you to those of you who've been able to do some preparing at home with your CD's. It really makes a difference.

Yours in harmony,


Friday, October 21, 2011

What my baton does

Hi Everyone!

Not all choir directors conduct with a baton. My baton was given to me by Michael on behalf of the choir when I started conducting a few years ago. I forgot it at home once and will not make that mistake again. My arms hurt the whole next day. It was exhausting. The baton allows me to make big exaggerated movements with a moderate amount of effort.

I learned how to conduct in band class in high school (Maybe already in jr. high. I can't remember.) and I liked being able to follow the baton and count down-beats, and see where the third beat is when that's where I need to come in.

I try to give the choir what I would like to have to follow when I'm singing. So, I try to always give a strong beat #1, even when I don't give every single beat. I try to give every single beat even while giving clear start and stop signals, and trying to show where the dynamics should be going, but sometimes I can't.  Beat one and starts and stops are the priorities. It helps us to stay together. That's really important.

Anyways, I thought I'd make it clear here what it is I'm doing when I'm standing in front of the choir waving my baton and my hands about.

1. When there are two beats in the bar, it looks like the first one. That's for cut time, or 2/4 or even 6/8. It just goes down and up and down...

2. The second pattern is the pattern I use for 4/4 time.  That's 4 quarter notes per bar. It's the most common time signature. Sometimes it's called Common Time and marked with a C. "It goes like this" for Hallelujah too, which is 12/8. This is the way I see it. You see it the other way, with beat two on your right and three on your left, a mirror image.

3. A waltz-like 3/4 time looks like the third pattern, only the mirror image because that's what I'm doing and you're facing me, so you see 2 on the left. 

Notice that the in 3/4 and 4/4 you get left-up before beat 1.

Another thing I do to help you is to take a big breath just before you're supposed to come in.

I hold my left hand open to show you to hold a note and then I close it in a fist when you stop. This you know very well because I always make a point of getting everyone to stop at the same moment, especially when we're ending on an S sound. I call it cutting you off. Watch for the cut offs!

People always comment on the way my hair moves when I conduct. I usually emphasize starts with my head, so when I take my deep breath in, I'm also moving my head up. And when the baton comes down, so does my head.  My hair follows. I know that you can't all see all of me all of the time, so I try to give you all kinds of cues. I use my head and shoulders and even elbows to show eighth notes, or sixteenths or triplets, any extra beats between the ones the baton does.

Another important signal is when I put my left hand in front of my face. Usually my index finger is also pointing up, like shhhhh! But sometimes I show you my open palm in front of my mouth. That means you're too loud. Sing softer.  I have to do this for You Raise Me Up and for Hallelujah, because you forget to sing the chorus softly the first couple of times.

If you ever have any questions about what I'm doing when I'm conducting, go ahead and ask. I'm sure others will also be wondering.

So, next time you sing, look out for beat one, and watch for when I've got my hand in front of my face and when I make a fist.

Yours in harmony,


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

York Region is Big

Hi All,

Yup. York Region is big.

It goes from Steeles Avenue all the way up to Lake Simcoe, and borders Peel and Simcoe County on the West and Durham Region on the East.

It’s made up of these municipalities:
·         Aurora
·         East Gwillimbury
·         Georgina
·         King
·         Markham
·         Newmarket
·         Richmond Hill
·         Vaughan
·         Whitchurch-Stouffville

I was just reading about a York Region event called Savour York Region. I was hoping to read about Newmarket and Aurora restaurants there, but was disappointed. This event started off its life as Savour Vaughan, and has grown to include some bordering areas, but hasn’t got up this far yet. The restaurants sound fabulous, though. And, I guess the idea is to say that you don’t have to go down to Toronto to eat well.

Do they know about us up here in the physical and administrative centre of the region? Newmarket is in the middle of York Region. We’re about half way from the northernmost places on Lake Simcoe to Steeles Ave., and about half way from the western edges to the east.

The great big York Region Administrative Centre, where we rehearse, is in Newmarket. York Regional Police are here. York Region Children’s Aid, The York Region Women’s Centre, the York Region Food Network are all in Newmarket. The administrative buildings for the York Region School Boards (Public and Catholic) are nearby in Aurora.

The York Region Community Choir rehearses in Newmarket and we visit seniors in nursing homes and retirement residences in Newmarket, Aurora, and Bradford. Our members are mostly from Newmarket and Aurora, but we have members from Holland Landing, Bradford, Keswick, Gormley, Mount Albert, and Richmond Hill.

We have sung in the Stephen Leacock Theatre up in Keswick and we have sung in the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, but our favourite venue is Trinity Anglican Church in Aurora, which is also the home of The York Symphony.

We have some pretty good restaurants up here too.

Yours in harmony,

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Health Benefits of Singing from the Barbershop Harmony Society

Here's the whole article. Go to the end for a link to the Barbershop Harmony Society website.

Health Benefits of Singing

Scientists say singing boosts immune system. - Singing strengthens the immune system, according to research by scientists at the University of Frankfurt in Germany, published in the latest edition of the US Journal of Behavioral Medicine. The scientists tested the blood of people who sang in a professional choir in the city, before and after a 60 minute rehearsal of Mozart's Requiem.They found that concentrations of immunoglobin A - proteins in the immune system which function as antibodies - and hydrocortisone, an anti-stress hormone, increased significantly during the rehearsal. A week later, when they asked members of the choir to listen to a recording of the Requiem without singing, they found the composition of their blood did not change significantly. The researchers, who included Hans Guenther Bastian from the Institute of Musical Education at Frankfurt University, concluded singing not only strengthened the immune system but also notably improved the performer's mood.

Singing is good for you. - Many studies done over a number of years have focused on the health benefits of singing, and the evidence is overwhelming.
o   Singing releases endorphins into your system and makes you feel energized and uplifted.  People who sing are healthier than people who don’t.
o   Singing gives the lungs a workout,
o   Singing tones abdominal and intercostal muscles and the diaphragm, and stimulates circulation.
o   Singing makes us breathe more deeply than many forms of strenuous exercise, so we take in more oxygen, improve aerobic capacity and experience a release of muscle tension as well.” — Professor Graham Welch, Director of Educational Research, University of Surrey, Roehampton, UK

Singing can help prolong life. - Graham Welch, director for advanced music education at London’s Roehampton Institute, states “Singing exercises the vocal cords and keeps them youthful, even in old age. The less age-battered your voice sounds, the more you will feel, and seem, younger.” He says that when you break into song, your chest expands and your back and shoulders straighten, thus improving your posture. Singing lifts moods and clears the “blues” by taking your mind off the stresses of the day, as well as releasing pain-relieving endorphins. As you sing along, the professor adds, your circulation is improved, which in turn oxygenates the cells and boosts the body’s immune system to ward off minor infections. And “it provides some aerobic exercise for the elderly or disabled,” Welch says. A recent German study has shown that active amateur group singing can lead to significant increases in the production of a protein considered as the first line of defense against respiratory infections, and also leads to positive emotional changes. “Given that every human being is, in principle, capable of developing sufficient vocal skills to participate in a chorale for a lifetime, active group singing may be a risk-free, economic, easily accessible, and yet powerful road to enhanced physiological and psychological well-being.”

Greg Cohen of George Washington University tracked a Senior Singers Chorale in Arlington, Va. The chorale singers’ average age is 80 — the youngest is 65 and the oldest 96. Preliminary data shows the singers suffer less depression, make fewer doctor visits a year, take fewer medications and have increased their other activities.

Singing starts in infancy. John Lennon, Professor Of Vocal Performance, Emeritus Emporia State University, says, “I contend that singing is an inborn response in those moments of absolute emotional tranquility. Babies sing to themselves. The fact that we recognize no identifiable melodic sequence does not mean that it is not singing. Such spontaneous oral response has sustained emission, rhythm, pitch variation and emotional expression. Like the infant, we sing because we feel good and singing makes us feel even better. When we sing to ourselves we are, in effect, communicating with the inner-self … it may well be counter-productive to one’s well being not to sing.“ Preschool and kindergarten teachers have known for a long time that children learn best through songs. They remember the material easier and it is easier to keep them engaged in the activity. It could be as simple as someone who told us that it was something we shouldn’t do because it wasn’t pleasant to listen to or the self-talk that says it doesn’t sound good enough, so don’t do it. Lennon asks, “Is the logic that if one ‘sounds better’ one ‘enjoys‘ it more? Do we sing primarily to sound better? It is a coveted fringe benefit, but hardly the primary reason why we sing.”

Reid Wilson, Ph.D., Associate Clinical Professor Of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, believes you can, “sing away your woes.” Simply choose a familiar song, and then set your troubles to music. For example, instead of crooning the traditional words to Mary Had A Little Lamb, imagine warbling, “My credit card bill is going to be late, going to be late, going to be late; my credit rating will be ruined, and I’ll never get a mortgage.” Sing your own version of the worry song in your mind, or out loud for a few minutes, until you feel less anxious. It works because “the singing makes you feel ridiculous”, says Wilson. “And it’s very hard to maintain your distress when you’re doing something foolish. You step back from the worry and put it in perspective.”

Sound therapist Jovita Wallace says "Sound vibrations massage your aura, going straight to what's out of balance and fixing it."
·         Singing the short-a sound, as in ahh, for 2-3 minutes will help banish the blues. It forces oxygen into the blood, which signals the brain to release mood-lifting endorphins.
·         To boost alertness, make the long-e sound, as in emit. It stimulates the pineal gland, which controls the body's biological clock.
·         Singing the short-e sound, as in echo stimulates the thyroid gland, which secretes hormones that control the speed which digestion and other bodily processes occur.
·         Making the long-o sound as in ocean stimulates the pancreas, which regulates blood sugar.
·         To strengthen immunity, sing the double-o sound, as in tool. This activates the spleen, which regulates the production of infection fighting white blood cells.

Researchers at the University of Manchester have discovered that the sacculus, a little organ in the inner ear, responds to frequencies commonly found in music, & is connected to the part of the brain responsible for registering pleasure. This sacculus is ONLY responsive to low frequency, high intensity sounds, which include singing, & it responds within a few seconds of hearing that kind of sound. So you get immediate pleasure when you sing, regardless of what it sounds like to anyone else. Now if there are no criticisms or put downs from anyone else to cause you pain, you´ll find the experience enjoyable and get release of good old pleasure-giving endorphins as well. Singing provides catharsis across the full emotional spectrum. It can give a directly-experienced, felt-sense of happiness. It´s a mood lifter & anti depressant with no side effects. And it´s not news to health professionals that mental & physical health are intimately linked.

Journal of Music Therapy: Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 125–143. Singing as a Therapeutic Agent, in The Etude, 1891—1949 Bryan C. Hunter, PhD, MT-BCaa Nazareth College, Rochester, New York - The Etude music magazine, founded by Theodore Presser, was one of a number of popular music magazines published in the years prior to the establishment of the music therapy profession in 1950. During its publication run from 1883 to 1957, over 100 music therapy related articles appeared, including 13 on the health benefits of singing published between 1891 and 1949. Written by authors with diverse backgrounds, such as the famous Battle Creek, Michigan physician John Harvey Kellogg and Boston music critic Louis C. Elson, the articles contained consistent and adamant support regarding the health benefits of singing. The advantages described were both physical and psychological, and were recommended prophylactically for well persons and therapeutically for ill persons. Although the articles varied in perspective, from philosophical to theoretical to pedagogical, there is a consistent holistic medicine theme that appeared almost ahead of its time and no doubt linked to the push for vocal music education in that era. The importance of The Etude in promulgating ideas that helped shape the early practice of music therapy should not be underestimated. For much of its publication run The Etude was the largest music periodical in print, reaching its peak circulation of 250,000 copies per month in 1924.

Sing yourself happy and fit! If you have ever wondered why choral singers look to be on a high, here are some of the reasons. The health benefits of singing are well documented:
·         Singing improves your mood. It releases the same feel-good brain chemicals as sex and chocolate!
·         It is very effective as a stress reliever and improves sleep
·         Singing releases pain-relieving endorphins, helping you to forget that painful tooth/knee/whatever
·         Your posture improves
·         Lung capacity increases
·         Singing clears sinuses and respiratory tubes
·         Your mental alertness improves
·         Singing tones your facial and stomach muscles
·         It boosts your immune system, helping to fight disease and prolonging life expectancy
·         Your confidence increases

And of course the social benefits are important too: Singing widens your circle of friends (and some of us go on to the pub afterwards!) Give it a try and see what it can do for you!

Effects of Choir Singing or Listening on Secretory Immunoglobulin A, Cortisol, and Emotional State - Gunter Kreutz,1,3 Stephan Bongard,2 Sonja Rohrmann,2 Volker Hodapp,2 and Dorothee Grebe1 - Accepted for publication: November 11, 2003 - The present study investigates the effects of choir music on secretory immunoglobulinA(S-IgA), cortisol, and emotional states in members of a mixed amateur choir. Subjects participated in two conditions during two rehearsals one week apart, namely singing versus listening to choral music. Saliva samples and subjective measures of affect were taken both before each session and 60 min later. Repeated measure analyses of variance were conducted for positive and negative affect scores, S-IgA, and cortisol. Results indicate several significant effects. In particular, singing leads to increases in positive affect and S-IgA, while negative affect is reduced. Listening to choral music leads to an increase in negative affect, and decreases in levels of cortisol. These results suggest that choir singing positively influences both emotional affect and immune competence. The observation that subjective and physiological responses differed between listening and singing conditions invites further investigation of task factors.

Sing for your life! Richard J. B. Willis, BUC Health Ministries Director - Research over the last decade in relation to the effects of the arts on health suggests that the aesthetic is important to our well-being. A couple of recent studies bear out the statement addressed to Robert Browning: ‘There is delight in singing, tho’ none hear beside the singer’. The delights are not all in the hearing. Studies into the health benefits of singing conducted at Canterbury University showed positive associations between singing and n feelings of well-being
·         greater relaxation responses
·         improved breathing and benefit to the heart and immune system n better posture
·         enhanced social, spiritual and emotional benefits.

An introductory leaflet by the Health Education Authority, linking the arts to health, states:
‘The arts clearly have a potential to make a major contribution to our health, well-being and life skills. It is important, however, to capture the evidence of the impact of the arts on health to ensure proper recognition of their effect and the availability of appropriate levels of investment to sustain any positive influences.’ The two Canterbury studies provide the evidence from their interviews with members of the university’s choral society: Of the respondents
·         49% said they received spiritual benefit from their singing (and not necessarily through ‘spiritual’ music);
·         58% benefited physically;
·         75% emotionally; and
·         87% socially.

Life-Affirming Benefits of Singing - Vocalizing Promotes Well Being By Patty Mills
“Singing fortifies health, widens culture, refines the intelligence, enriches the imagination, makes for happiness and endows life with an added zest.” * If you sing in the shower or sing along with the radio, consider taking this raw vocal skill to new heights.  Music – the “universal language” not only stirs our deepest emotions, but active participation can increase energy and vigor to see us through even the most stress-filled life commitments. Good vocal technique goes beyond the basics to include both physical and vocal warm-ups, proper nutrition, adequate rest and emotional commitment.  An experienced vocal teacher will explore all aspects of posture, abdominal and chest development, tone production and breath control.  What health club can promise these benefits?

·         Singing increases poise, self-esteem and presentation skills.
·         Singing strengthens concentration and memory.
·         Singing develops the lungs and promotes superior posture.
·         Singing broadens expressive communication.
·         Singing adds a rich, more pleasant quality to speech.
·         Singing animates the body, mind and spirit.
·         Singing enables the performer to delve into characterization/acting.
·         Singing stimulates insight into prose and poetry and piques interests in the inner meaning of words.
·         Singing enriches one’s ability to appreciate the art of great singers.
·         Singing is an ageless enjoyment – you are never too young or too old.
·         Singing is therapeutic both emotionally and physically.

Solo singing is easy to develop with the assistance of a well-trained vocal coach.  Performing opportunities include church/band soloist, cabaret artist, or enjoying your newly developed skill exclusively for self-satisfaction.  Opportunities to group singing abound from choirs to classical ensembles, Madrigal troupes, doo-wop, a cappella and more.  If you commit to a performing ensemble, be sure the group shares the same emotionally and health-enriching goals you have set for yourself.

Whether or not you become a world-class singer is not important.  Sharing the joy of singing will enrich your life far beyond the notes and music.  Add a healthy, new dimension to your life – try SINGING!

*American Academy of Teachers of Singing

Patty Mills was an active member of the YankeeMaid Chorus for many years.  Most recently she was very involved in marketing and public relations for the chorus.  To that end, she wrote this article for publication in the Fairfield/New Haven Counties edition of “Music Notes.”  In January 2000, we lost Patty to cancer.  The YankeeMaids miss Patty and remember her fondly.

The Arts - Music and Singing - Music as a therapeutic medium has demonstrated to be efficacious for pain management (Trauger-Querry & Haghighi, 1999), in facilitating the resolution of grief (Bright, 1999), as a means of finding a personal identity (Smeijsters & van den Hurk, 1999), to improve the lives of people with communications problems related to cognitive impairment (O’Callaghan, 1999), and to enhance the quality of life for Alzheimers patients (Hanser, 1999). Recent longitudinal analysis of music-therapy related articles in the ‘Etude’ music magazine for the period 1883 to 1957 has also indicated consistent and adamant support for the (physical and psychological) health benefits of singing (Hunter, 1999).

Want to start feeling better now?
Go to www.youcansingtoo.com and start living!

Health Benefits of Singing in a Choir

Hello All!
I've posted on our Facebook Page an article about the health benefits of singing. Now I'm going to post here about the same topic.

I've just read another article about how healthy it is for us to sing, especially in a choir. This one was by the Barbershop Harmony Society. It's a really long article, but it says so many important things. I'm going to post it here for you to read too.

I like how it says we look high when we sing. It's true. Sometimes theres a kind of rapture when we're sounding good and the song is beautiful and we're all soooo happy.

Here's a quote:

Sing yourself happy and fit! If you have ever wondered why choral singers look to be on a high, here are some of the reasons. The health benefits of singing are well documented:
·         Singing improves your mood. It releases the same feel-good brain chemicals as sex and chocolate!
·         It is very effective as a stress reliever and improves sleep
·         Singing releases pain-relieving endorphins, helping you to forget that painful tooth/knee/whatever
·         Your posture improves
·         Lung capacity increases
·         Singing clears sinuses and respiratory tubes
·         Your mental alertness improves
·         Singing tones your facial and stomach muscles
·         It boosts your immune system, helping to fight disease and prolonging life expectancy
·         Your confidence increases

Yours in harmony,


Saturday, October 8, 2011

In Harmony With The Community

Hi Everybody!

I've been getting questions about the timing of the big The York Regional Police Male Chorus concert, In Harmony With The Community on Saturday, November 12, 2011. I knew we'd be there a long time, from afternoon to late evening, but it's really, really long. I recently received an email and here's how it's going to work:

Each choir gets a 20-minute sound check. Ours is from 1:20 to 1:40.

The mass choir sound check is 40 minutes, from 2:20-3:00.

1:00 p.m. to 1:20 p.m.    -  Ottawa Police Chorus
1:20 p.m. to 1:40 p.m.    -  York Region Community Choir
1:40 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.    -  York Regional Police Male Chorus
2:00 p.m. to 2:20 p.m.    -  Roselawn P.S. Choir & W.J. Watson P.S. Glee Club (as they will be performing as one group)
2:20 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.    -  Mass Choir/Chorus

At 4:00, there's social time with sandwiches and desserts and drinks provided by the YRPMC.

There's an official photograph of the mass choir at 6:00.

The concert starts at 7:30.

So, it looks like we'll be there from 1-10! I guess we could choose to go home between 3 and 6 if we needed to. We'll see.

It will be a great experience for us. I'm really looking forward to it. The sound that we have when we're all together is fabulous. Multiply that by 4, and it will really send chills down our spines.

When we sang One Small Step on Monday, I really had goosebumps! It was so pretty! I can't wait to hear how it sounds with everybody else.

It won't be long. Be sure to listen to your CD's when you can. I'm sure it will help us learn our songs faster and better.

See you Monday!

Yours in harmony,